CHAT WITH DOMINIC DUVAL
Cited as one of the most recorded bassists, most recorded instrumentalists,
in any music let alone free form avant-garde, Dominic Duval is fastly
becoming the premier bassist of his time. Sadly, most of his recordings
are on obscure, if not important indie labels, so Duval does not get the
exposure his playing commands. It is a treat to gain insight into one
artist whom is sure to be a Roadshow regular. As always, unedited and
in his own words.
JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
DUVAL: I was born in Bellevue Hospital in New York City and went to school
in Brooklyn. I had a lot of friends of mine when I was growing up that
were musicians. I had brothers who were musicians, older brothers. A whole
bunch of us guys used to hangout and when it was time to pick a band,
at that time, in the school system, they had programs, unlike today, where
a lot of these schools are doing away with them, unfortunately. I think
saxophone was something that was available. They had two or three different
instruments that I could have chosen. One was drums. The other one was
a piccolo or something and a saxophone. So the saxophone sounded good
and I said that I would try out for the orchestra. So that's how I got
started in thinking about being a musician or at least thinking about
playing an instrument. And being from Brooklyn in the multicultural area
that I lived there was an influx of all different types of music. There
was a Spanish people that were there and African-Americans and Europeans,
all of these people kind of brought into one little spot together in Williamsburg.
I grew up learning about different types of cultures and music and that's
how I kind of got started being interested in jazz. A lot of my friends
were from families that had jazz musicians and I kind of fell into it
The bass isn't as cool as a horn.
DUVAL: Well, I did choose a horn actually. I played saxophone for roughly
five or six years before becoming a bass player or before deciding that
I was going to be a bass player, not unlike, unlike Scott LaFaro, who
played clarinet pretty much his whole early life and switched to bass
at a later time. I also felt the need to play in the rhythm section and
play an instrument that was, that had a pitch, that controlled harmony
as well as melody and rhythm. Bass was the obvious place to go if I wanted
to do that. Picking the bass was something that came almost second nature
to me. We had two saxophone players, me and this other fella. He was a
saxophone player and so was I and we had a trumpet player. We had too
many saxophones and so somebody asked me if I'd be interested in playing
the bass and there was a bass around in school, so I said that I would
give it a try and that is kind of how I fell into it.
DUVAL: Well, my father was a very big fan of big bands and he a very large
record collection, taking in all of the swing era, including Basie and
Ellington. So I listened to a lot of swing music growing up. He was also
kind of involved in semi-classical opera. He had a voice. He could sing
extremely well. That's how I got introduced to big band music. He had
quite a few Ellington recordings. I found a different type of music, and
Kenton, which was extremely interesting at the time. And my friends, they
were listening to Miles Davis and people from a more modern jazz era,
Charlie Parker. I learned about that very early in life. I kind of had
two different schools going on at the same time. After I switched to bass,
I had an opportunity to play with a lot of musicians that were friends
of mine that were all attempting to try to put together groups. I had
a better opportunity to kind of play in many different situations at the
same time. Since I was the only bass player around, that gave me an opportunity
to play some really interesting music at a very young age.
Anything peak your interest?
DUVAL: Good question. I thought I was really interested in more mainstream
music at the time when I first started because it's what I understood.
I wasn't quite sure of what I was going to be when I grew up. I wasn't
even sure that I was going to continue playing music. It was just something
that I enjoyed doing. Of course at a young age, fourteen, fifteen years
old, you never really have a clear picture of what's going to be available
to you when you get older. My father was the last person in the world
who wanted me to be a musician. He would have much rather me gone into
some other, that wasn't so risky. He felt it was risky. He's right, of
course (laughing). Yeah, I loved mostly mainstream music until a little
later when I started hearing about and going to see people like John Coltrane.
There was a point there for a couple of years when I was sixteen, fifteen,
sixteen, seventeen, when I was actually going down and watching people
play. I saw a lot of musicians including John Coltrane. Miles Davis used
to play down there. They would allow kids in during the day when these
guys would rehearse and we saw some incredible music down there and it
kind of started to get into my subconscious because when I turned eighteen,
I was really seriously thinking about being a jazz bass player. I was
playing jazz, but I was starting to lean towards more adventurous type
Fill in the gaps for me.
DUVAL: Well, I had gotten into John Coltrane. The first time I realized
that here is something that I really would enjoy doing. It had an energy
all of its own, a kind of freedom that I thought I could really get into.
Really one of my joys would have been able to play with John Coltrane.
I was actually thinking, "Gee, if I got good enough, I might be able
to play with this man." Being around my peers and playing music,
learning tunes, everybody goes through this, I guess, when they're growing
up, learning tunes, discovering new types of rhythms, including Latin
things, which I enjoyed a lot. It was really more of a, in my case, of
a need to have a certain freedom inside of structure. I didn't like playing
music exactly like it was written. I did that playing in big bands. You
get to read all these charts and there wasn't enough there to keep me
Reflecting back, would it have been easier for you to play more mainstream
DUVAL: In hindsight, Fred, yes, of course. It is always easier to play
what people want you to play. What I mean by want you to play is that
as being something that they understand, a common interest. Yes, it would
have been easier, but following this trail, I was being to see some sort
of direction pertaining to me. And having this great need to be accepted
by a certain kind of people, you know, Fred, peer acceptance is a great
thing. When I think how I would have felt if John Coltrane came up to
me after hearing me play and said, "I would love to have you play
with me." I mean, when I think of what that would have done to my
life in one way or another, I mean, it would have changed the whole direction
of what I was doing because I respected these people more than just about
anything at the time. I think what is really important is the end result
and how you get to the most comfortable place for yourself. I think, in
terms of my development, I don't think I can take anything away from what
I've done because it's all part of what makes me do what I do.
FJ: Do you miss Trane?
DUVAL: You know, Fred, I miss what's involved with Trane, not so much
that I miss him as a person, but a certain, it seemed like there was a
different atmosphere that's changed. Not so much that it was an inclusion,
well, maybe it was an inclusion of all these different styles that, not
just in his playing, but in his persona as an instrumentalist and as a
person came through and his need to be always seeking. I miss that and
I don't think there's, I mean, there is that in some people.
DUVAL: For instance, the closest thing I could think to Trane in a saxophone
sense is Joe McPhee, whom I feel has that special quality that he's like
a beautiful bird that is able to play music from his heart and not necessarily
from his head. It's a language that only he developed and to me, it is
as plain as day. To other people, they might be very confused because
it never falls into any particular category. But to me, his language is
understandable and perfectly clear.
That is evident in the numerous recordings you and Joe have made.
DUVAL: I've been lucky enough to have gotten together with Joe on a number
of occasions. We talk quite often, share a lot of common truths. But we
never talk about music (laughing). We always talk about everything but
music. I think that's the way it should be. I don't music should be talked
about as much as it should be experienced. I mean, you talk about it when
you're younger because you want to learn from your fellow musicians and
here's a new way to play a chord or here's some new ideas. But once you
develop and you know what it is that you want to do, you're not going
to change how you do things anymore because your development as a musician
is constantly evolving and through his own playing, he discovers new thing.
After awhile, the time for learning is over and the time for experiment,
for the most, has long since past. You know what direction you're going.
I mean, if you're a true artist, you know what direction you want to go
in. You know what you want to paint. I don't think Picasso or any of these
great luminaries, Van Gogh or any person that's respected, I don't think
there was a question in their mind of what it is they wanted to do and
how they were going to do it. There was no, "Do you think I should
do this? Do you think I should do that?" It's a force that drives
to do something. You must do it, otherwise, you're not complete. I think
in that respect, once you've developed as a musician and you've developed
as a person that makes music, the next thing is to make the person and
the music become the same thing.
FJ: Have you come to that mountaintop?
DUVAL: Well, I would hope that I'm on the right path. When people ask
me who I am, I tell them that right or wrong, listening to the music,
you'll know everything there is to know about me. I hope that what I say
musically is what I'm thinking and what I'm feeling as a person and that
it gets to the audience, to the listener, as an honest, truthful statement.
It's really not about anything except emotion and passion, everything
Do you see that kind of passion in players coming up today?
DUVAL: Do I think there are younger players that have this? I think that
some gifted people are technically capable of making incredible music,
but I think life in the long run will dictate whether this music is important
or not. I don't think I would separate the person from the music. I used
to think that that was a possibility. Great people make great music. I'm
not saying that I'm a great person, Fred, but I always work at being able
to promote types of sounds that I would think that people want to hear
from me. They could hear Paul Chambers' chops. They could hear Scott LaFaro's
chops. But when they hear one of my records, what I'm hoping for is they
see something that they won't hear from ninety percent of the other people
that are out there. I don't try to make music with that in mind, but it
certainly has a lot to do with the way I approach the instrument. I'm
really not a bass player per say. I wouldn't put myself in the all around
sideman that everybody would pick for me to play in this band or that
band because I don't play, I mean, I have played that kind of music, but
I don't necessarily, I'm not noticed for that, so I don't get the calls
from Joe Lovano or from Wynton Marsalis or any of these guys to play gigs
because what I do is much more personal than that. It's not let's copy
the latest sound that we heard on the record. I'm not trying to emulate
anybody. I'm just trying to create music with an honesty to it. I think
that's what Joe does. I think Cecil Taylor has that. I know he has that.
I played with Cecil for a number of years. It was a great experience.
I want to play with him more. He's become very busy, but I feel that these
individuals, the people that you can kind of like point to or if you hear
them. I know that you can't do that with very many things in this world.
When you hear a Cecil Taylor record, even if somebody is trying to sound
like him, then they would just say, "I think that sounds like Cecil,
but it's really not him," because if you know anything about his
music, then you tend to be able to weed out these sound a likes, but the
essence of Cecil Taylor is extremely original.
If you got the call from Wynton, would you take that call?
You alluded to your time with Cecil Taylor.
DUVAL: Yes, I did. It was a great experience working with Cecil. Cecil
showed me what the capabilities are in the creative spirit. He represents
one of the greatest living forces in creative energy that I've witnessed
firsthand. A lot of things, you hear about or you read about and you say,
"Yeah, this is the real thing," but being around Cecil and being
involved with him and the way he lives life is a perfect example of him
being what he is. His music is a documentary of what he is as a person.
I mean, there isn't any difference.
Let's touch on your latest trio session for Leo Records, Equinox.
DUVAL: The trio is with an old friend of mine, Michael Jeffrey Stevens
on piano and Tomas Ulrich on cello. Both of these gentlemen, I've thought
highly. It was really at my prodding that we got into the studio. Michael
and I have spoken about doing something and we had done a record previous
to that called Elements and that's also on Leo. That was actually my first
recording, professional recording, my first professional venture and Leo
was interested in putting it out and so the Equinox Trio was kind of a
scaled down group of friends of mine. We've played together for a long
time. Tomas and I have been on a couple of different outings. I thought
it would make a good grouping of people who all had the same abilities.
When I choose musicians I try to choose them for what their capabilities
are and what their strengths are and those strengths will help enforce
the total outcome. Equinox is exactly what it is. It was a force where
all the elements were exactly at the same place. The abilities were equally
joined. Michael and I and Tomas had a great time doing it and it was successful
and Leo thought so also and put it out.
FJ: And a collaboration with Joe McPhee, Undersound on Leo.
DUVAL: Another friend of mine. Not that I always play music with friends,
but it seems like when you play music with people, you either become friends
or enemies (laughing). I don't think we can split the difference on that.
If you enjoyed the experience together, then you automatically have something
in common musically speaking. Then you start kind of living life together.
You have conversations about this guy's family and that guy's family.
You have dinner together. Undersound was a pairing of Joe McPhee and I
with a wonderful artist from Montreal, John Heward, who's had a number
of things published. In fact, if you look at the front cover, Fred, the
whole idea of Undersound was John's. Without having any specific melodic
content or rhythmic content, each piece was based on the smallest particle
of information that people can use to make music with. There is an Undersound
II coming out, which starts where Undersound left off. John is a painter
and a sculpture and he started me thinking about the "th" syndrome
and the three words that come to mind are birth, breath, and death. They
all end with the same "th." To John, in his mind, this manufactures
a life experience, so Undersound II was born with a live performance in
Montreal, no more than three weeks, it was around four weeks ago, where
we showed up at this little gathering that they set up for us and there
was like two hundred people there. And in Montreal, in the wintertime,
it was like twenty degrees below zero. Snow was everywhere and people
showed up to hear this music. Somebody was bright enough to put some microphones
up and record this thing, so we have an Undersound II that's coming out,
which will be out probably in the spring. That's on Leo as well. It will
look exactly like Undersound, only it's got the Roman numeral II on it
and it's got a different picture or a different painting of John's, which
I have the original of. I was fortunate enough and he was gracious enough
to give me the original "th." That is going to be out on Leo
and it will be called Undersound II and it will have liner notes in it
this time, which the other one did not. It also has a different painting.
It will look the same, but it won't sound the same because it is an extension
of that idea of Undersound. Now, we're into a completely different phase
of that organization, of that group of people. The understanding, the
communication, the bravado that we have on stage becomes part of the music
when you feel strength from people who breathe together, think together,
you have something much stronger and I think we gotten to that point with
And Under the Pyramid (Leo Records)?
DUVAL: The Pyramid group, that's the new Pyramid String Quartet. We've
got a new record out in the spring with that group. It has a name change.
It has a name change.
Formerly the Cecil Taylor String Quartet.
DUVAL: Right, it is the same personnel. This has been documented before,
but just briefly, Fred, the original record is called The Navigator (Leo
Records), which I always thought of Cecil Taylor as being like a navigator.
I remember, do you remember that Monk album, Fred, where Monk's got this,
the old time flyer's headgear on? He's in an airplane, an open cockpit
Solo Monk (Columbia).
DUVAL: Yeah, well, Cecil kind of reminds me of like this sparrow that's
flying through a storm and he's got goggles on and everything follows
him. I always call Cecil, the navigator. You have to stick close behind
or else you're going to get lost. So The Navigator was a demo for Cecil
that I put together. He had asked me if I could do the string quartet.
He was working on a string quartet piece that he was actually writing
and he asked me if I thought that I could put a string group together
to perform this music. And I told him that I could probably do it in three
minutes (laughing). I knew the people and so we went into the studio to
just record a demo. What I did was I just put different little scenarios
together of things to play on. I didn't write anything out. I just discussed
what I wanted to do and these guys, of course, being the great musicians
that they are were able to do exactly what I was asking for and more.
So The Navigator was like the first recording. He (Cecil) had actually
decided not to go ahead with the string project. He was busy doing some
other things and I just asked him if he would mind if I submitted it as
a recording and Leo picked it up and he fell in love with the group. Then
we did the Pyramid, which was the second recording. Then we did The Alexander
Suite, which is a pairing of that group with Ivo Perelman. And then we
did the Pyramid, which after my last visit to the Yucatan, which is one
of my favorite places.
You also did a recording with Jason Hwang on Blue Jackel titled The Experiment.
DUVAL: The Experiment, yeah. That is a duo setting. That is Jason Kao
Hwang, who is a wonderful violinist and friend of mine, a very warm, dear
person. The Experiment was exactly what it was. I had recorded a solo
album a number of years ago for Cadence and that had a lot to do with
manipulations of acoustics sounds for recording purposes. I wanted to
extend the voice of the bass into different areas that I couldn't do naturally.
I utilized the studio with an engineer and all their equipment to produce
certain effects that I played with in live performance. So that was my,
the original idea was to create sounds of the bird world as well as other
natural elements and using the blues. I believe that everything I play
is the blues. So The Experiment was exactly what it was. I wanted to experiment
with the same process, but not with just one person, but two people and
actually, the third person, which is the engineer. So you had three people
making music together even though one wasn't playing. The experiment was
to just call up Jason and just to tell him to be there at a certain time
and without giving him any idea or any ideas to the engineer. This was
a brand new engineer. I told him to start taking out stuff and we set
up inside the control booth and put the mics up and I kind of wrote down
different things that I wanted. I said, "Can you do this?" And
he said, "Yeah." So he's standing there because he doesn't even
have a chair. We've got a violinist and a bass player in his booth and
we're playing music and he's moving dials and punching things and patching
things. So The Experiment was born of that commonality.
And your latest for the CIMP label, Anniversary?
DUVAL: Yeah, well, that was a celebration of my first meeting with Bob
Rusch and the CIMP people. Nobody knows it or if they do know it, the
first recording that I did for Bob Rusch was done in 1996. It was the
first time that I had actually sent a recording that Mark Whitecage and
Jay Rosen, the original Whitecage Trio. That original Whitecage Trio had
been made in 1995. He sent me a form letter back with all these checks
on it (laughing). We will do this and we won't do that. We will do that.
And I'm looking at this letter and I'm saying, "I think he wants
to record this group." I call up Mark and Mark was against me sending
the music because he didn't think that he'd be interested, but I sent
it anyhow because I thought it was great music. Sooner or later, somebody
on this planet was going to agree with that and oddly enough, Fred, that
record was released later on on GM Records called Split Personalities,
a great record. It's a great record. It has a lot of early electronic
stuff that I had been kind of experimenting with at the time and the utilization
of that within the trio. That came out but Bob Rusch didn't want that
record. He said, "Oh, no, I want to record the group live."
So we took a trip up to North Country to do this recording and almost
totaled my car doing it. We got run off the road by a giant log truck,
pushed into a ditch. It was in the middle of a snowstorm. We had to rent
a car. It took us, to go up there, it took us two days to get there. So
it was like the most ridiculous trip that I've been on in my entire life
and we get up there and because of the accident, I had a cut finger. I
couldn't even play with one of the digits. I played a lot of arco that
day. My finger was bleeding. It was a mess! But we wound up playing for
Bob Rusch and CIMP and it was one of the five or six recordings that he
had done. The first thing he does when I get up there is he hears me playing
and he says, "Where have you been?" I said, "I haven't
been anywhere. I've just been sending out tapes to people and getting
rejections." I think sent out fifty-six tapes and I got back sixty
rejections. How the hell do you do that (laughing)? I mean, that is not
easy to do, Fred. It is one thing to sent out sixty tapes and get back
sixty rejections. People were sending me two rejections back. They hated
the music so much. Whether they're regretting it or not, I feel invigorated
by the interest that people are showing in what I'm doing. It just re-establishes
and invigorates my passion to go ahead with other things that I'm thinking
of and different collaborations with different people. I was at the IAJE
Convention not too long ago, a couple of days ago, happening here in New
York City. It is actually the first thing that I have ever been to like
that. I was sponsored by Blue Jackel Records and got to meet a lot of
people and just finding out how many people are out there that are actually
listening to what we're doing, it just gave me a great feeling to make
me want to continue. It is like yourself. You're running this magazine
and I've noticed you've interviewed numerous amount of people. Some of
them I have great respect for. It's a service that you're providing. I
don't think we are destined to fall on deaf ears forever. I think there's
a lot of modesty in creative music, improvised music and people are going
to start to notice that because it's really obvious that the other stuff
has just really run its course. You just can't milk anymore out of it.
I mean it is one thing to play great and it's another thing to be creative
and to try to do things that are new and exciting.
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and the Grinch who stole Christmas. Comments?